The idea first flickered in the mind of a local park ranger -- host a campfire on the winter solstice. In the spirit of the season when people get together, Jim MacDonald is offering an inclusive hearth.

The public is invited to bring warm blankets and chairs, and come to a family friendly, free event Saturday, at the John Muir National Historic Site.

"In our own small way, by bringing people together to celebrate the winter solstice, we're carrying on long-standing traditions that honor our connections to nature and each other," says park guide Leah Duran.

At the John Muir site, nocturnal animals cast in shadow puppet play will tell the story of the dawn of a longer day, along with people singing songs about the solstice.

"The solstice has always been about bring light to dark," says park guide Daniel Prial, "and we want to do our part."

The activities are in keeping with ways other cultures have long celebrated the season, characterized by the building of fires, playing games, music and dressing in costumes.

For instance, the Scandinavian St. Lucy's Day features a candle-carrying, white robe-clad girl, who is charged with casting away winter and inviting the sun.

Prial recalls hearing the lore of "the cold, dark days" of Germany's Black Forest, where people huddled around the fire creating ornate cuckoo clocks.

Concord resident Cynthia Remis is one of the park volunteers who will be playing the guitar that evening and will participate in the puppet show.

"There's something very organic and primal (about the solstice)," she says. "It's about being out in the elements, in the dark and cold. It's being (underneath) the velvet night sky, the snapping of campfire wood." The solstice event will feature making candles, wreaths and snowflakes. At dusk, luminaries will light then way for people to walk to the campfire part of the program.

If you go
WHAT: Winter solstice celebration
WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 21 (3-5 p.m., arts and crafts; 5 p.m., lighting of the campfire)
WHERE: John Muir National Historic Site, 4202 Alhambra Ave., Martinez
COST: Free
INFORMATION: 925-228-8860